By Emily Williams-Robertshaw
For Herrick Siegel and fiancee Tiffany McCalmont, life hasn’t slowed down.
Both work in the medical industry. Siegel is an orthopedic surgeon at UAB and McCalmont runs her own medical distribution company.
In fact, life has become busier, with McCalmont starting a side business selling PPE.
“Not only am I on the craziest calls in the middle of the night, because my people are across the world in Thailand,” she said. “I’m planning a wedding in February, and now I’m planning a charity event.”
On Dec. 19, the Siegel-McCalmont home in Mountain Brook will be lit up for the first Siegel’s Winter Wonderland.
The come-and-go event will benefit Cedartown Animal Rescue, Education and Sterilization, better known as Cares, founded by Jeanie Waddell in Cedartown, Georgia.
Cares is a foster-based animal rescue and rehabilitation organization that focuses on saving animals that are up for euthanasia, educating the public about animal care and assisting with low-cost sterilizations.
“I was so inspired by what they do that I decided I would throw a charity event in the middle of COVID-19, in addition to all the other stuff going on in our lives,” McCalmont said.
The event was inspired by the couple’s recent adoption experience with Cares, driven by a recent loss.
During the pandemic, their 3-year-old German Shepherd, Rudy, passed away suddenly of hepatic cancer.
“Rudy was Herrick’s best friend,” McCalmont said. “Delilah, our other German Shepherd, who is 2, she really was missing Rudy and was very sad.”
McCalmont said it was clear that they needed to find a new friend, if not for their sake, then absolutely for Delilah.
Though they had not rescued a dog before, they liked the sound of rescuing a German Shepherd who would be a bit closer to Delilah’s age.
“We are familiar with German Shepherds and I was a little nervous to rescue one,” she said. “You never know with a shepherd what their behavior is like and why they were dropped off at (an animal control shelter).”
Nevertheless, through some online research they found and fell in love with a German Shepherd named Zulu, up for adoption through Cares.
The adoption process through Cares is extensive.
“When I sat down to do the application, I’m pretty sure it took me two hours just to fill everything out,” McCalmont said. The organization cares deeply about where their pets are placed, including following up with veterinary references for each applicant.
Once they were accepted and knew Zulu would be theirs, they drove over to Georgia to pick him up.
“He is the most loving, sweetest dog ever, you would not believe it,” she said, adding that it is a bit of a feat for a German Shepherd to be as gentle and appreciative as Zulu has been.
As the couple learned more about Cares, they also learned more about their new dog and what Zulu had been through during the pandemic.
“His mom couldn’t afford him,” McCalmont said. “She lost her job due to COVID-19 and couldn’t afford him.”
When he was dropped off at a kill shelter by the owner, he had been on a diet of only corn because the owner couldn’t afford to properly feed him.
Cares rescues dogs like Zulu and dogs that are far sicker. It has a history of rescuing dogs out of fighting rings, abuse situations, neglectful environments and hoarding cases. They also work with cats and horses.
McClanton noted that she respects any shelter that rescues dogs, but she witnessed people at Cares going above and beyond the call. With partnering veterinarians, Cares has treated animals suffering with broken limbs, heart worms, gun shots, malnutrition and blindness, to name a few of their maladies.
Cares relies solely on donations from animal lovers such as McCalmont.
“Going to Cares was a really beautiful thing for us to experience,” she said. “We didn’t realize that there were people out there doing this work.”
She felt so inspired by what they have done that she felt the need to give back in any way she could and do so in honor of both Rudy and Zulu.
“It was a tragedy for Rudy to have passed away, but it is also a blessing to have gotten Zulu,” McCalmont said.
“Without Cares, we wouldn’t have had someone to help fill this hole in our hearts so soon,” she said.
Fundraising in the Time of COVID
Though McCalmont admits that it is an odd time to host an event, she made sure to contact Mountain Brook city officials and take into account their suggestions.
For safety, McCalmont is hosting a “come-and-go” event. People can stop by and see some lights, have some hot chocolate and meet with Santa. There will be a giant Santa’s Mailbox where visitors can drop off donations.
“I realize that the SEC championship will be on that same day,” McCalmont said. Therefore, they plan to have a big screen projector showing the game on their tennis court.
“That way, if people do come by, they won’t miss any part of the game,” she said.
There also will be a virtual silent auction, available online at 32auctions.com/SiegelsWinterWonderland.
“I think the best part is that they can just log into it on their phones,” McCalmont said. “There won’t be any pencils or paper.
The auction is the first that McCalmont has ever planned on her own. It consists of sports memorabilia, a Porsche experience at Barber Motorsports, training with Dominion Dog Training and other experiences and products.
“Anything for a good cause and to spread some cheer is what my goal is,” McCalmont said.